For my eighth soul food post, I’m discussing a topic that almost everyone can connect with in some way- labels– specifically, labeling ourselves. How often do you refer to yourself in terms of your profession/hobby/city when defining yourself or your personality? Many of us define ourselves by referring to these categories or some group or activity because it helps us shapes others’ perceptions of ourselves, provides a sense of belonging, and/or masks insecurity.
Maybe you’ve never given it much thought, but once you’re made aware of how frequently you or others self-label, you can gain a lot of insight about yourself and them.
We can call it self-labeling for the purpose of this post, saying “I’m an athlete.” “I’m an artist.” “I’m from the greatest city, _______.” “I’m a ________ fan.”
Shaping how we want to be perceived
Identifying ourselves through the use of labels like these, allows others to categorize us in a particular way, and more importantly in self-labeling, allows us to shape how the other categorizes us. A lot of times, consciously or unconsciously, we want the other person to know or understand something about us by giving ourselves these defining characteristics as guidelines for which to do so.
Saying, “I’m a dancer,” for example, when you have only taken a few classes for fun in your life, may give the impression that you have qualities and training that you don’t actually possess. Is it because you want to be perceived as having these qualities? Or because you are insecure about the person you really are, so you try and attribute different qualities to yourself?
I used to define myself through labels all the time, because I wanted to project the image of someone that I wanted to be, rather than someone I was in that moment. Years later, I realized it was a reflection of an insecurity within me and a feeling of lack.
First let’s tackle belonging- though the desire to belong and insecurity go hand in hand. A sense of belonging is important for everyone, but it’s belonging to what, exactly, that matters.
It’s easy when you’re sad or feeling alone to fall back on a category or group of people that you feel you “go” with. I saw this so much in college with majors and clubs. People self-labeled as all kinds of things they weren’t, to seem cooler, smarter or feel more camaraderie with peers than they actually had. It’s normal to want to feel like part of a group, but it’s important to be able to stand alone too, both physically and emotionally. And being a part of the group won’t satisfy a bigger lack that you feel.
An example from my present life that I’ve observed would be where I was living in Boston, many people vacation in Cape Cod, Mass. Cape Cod becomes more of a little exclusive club than a true relaxing vacation spot for many, as it becomes an expression of status and wealth. Then, the people who all vacation in Cape Cod feel like part of the same club, when really it doesn’t mean much in the big picture. It’s really interesting to start paying attention to people who talk a lot about belonging to certain groups…which brings me to my next point: insecurity.
When you find a calmness within, the only thing that’s important to feel that you belong to is the universe. We are all connected, and you are never truly alone. Not because of our interests, or hometowns, but because we are all from the same source. So there is no need to feel alone or desperately cling on to others.
Feeling the need to belong to a group or category is an expression of a lack of something and an insecurity. Once you are actually at peace and centered within yourself, you don’t feel the need to belong to external groups or categories. And you don’t feel the need to make someone understand who you are. You can just be you.
Of course you have interests, but you don’t need to scream them out as if they define who you are. It’s very rare- maybe impossible- that one hobby or profession defines every level of who you are. True security lies in being peaceful and content within yourself without the influence of another’s opinion.
So next time you or someone around you starts a sentence with “I am” think about what follows it and why. 🙂 Just some food for thought. Let me know what you guys think in the comments below, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. xoxo